We have been looking at the life change that Jesus causes in people who listen to him and come to him. Acts 10-11 is going to show us that following Jesus means that we look at people differently and we handle our relationships differently. But before we move into the lesson I would like for us to think about how we look at other people. How do we look at strangers? How do we look at people who do not look like us? How do we look at people who do not act like us? How do we look at people who do not care about God? We live in a time right now where it is easy to begin with a negative perception of others. We assume the worst in others. We assume that they are out to get us or are going to hurt us. I am not saying such a thinking is completely unwarranted. I remember when I was a kid that I could go ride my bike without my parents knowing where in the world I was. It was no problem. Now we live in a time where we are afraid to let our kids out of our sight outside because there has been so much evil happen. But these kinds of things can stain how we look at others. But we are considering how God wants us to look at others from Acts 10-11.
The Visions (10:1-23)
We are introduced to a man named Cornelius who was a Roman commander over his army in Caesarea. Cornelius would be a Roman citizen. But we are told something very interesting in verse 2. He is devout and fears God along with the rest of his house. He even gives generously to those in need and prays to God regularly. One day an angel comes to Cornelius in a vision, telling him to send for Peter from Joppa. So Cornelius does exactly as he was told, sending servants to bring Peter back to Caesarea.
In verse 9 the attention turns to Peter. Peter is on the roof praying when the Lord sends him a vision. In the vision he sees a large sheet coming down. In the sheet were all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice tells Peter to get up, kill, and eat. Peter responds that he will not because he has never eaten anything common or unclean (10:14). Now it is important to understand why Peter is saying no. God had given a law to his people that there were only certain animals they were allowed to eat. Those that they were allowed to eat were called clean and those they were not allowed to eat were called unclean. Look at what God declared under the Law of Moses.
Therefore you are to distinguish the clean animal from the unclean one, and the unclean bird from the clean one. Do not become contaminated by any land animal, bird, or whatever crawls on the ground; I have set these apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be mine. (Leviticus 20:25–26 CSB)
What we see is Peter doing what this command says to do. He is not going to defile himself but wants to remain holy to the Lord. One way the people of Israel showed this was by eating differently. But listen to how God responds to Peter in verse 15. “What God has made clean, do not call impure.” Those animals were not to be considered unclean any longer. This happens to Peter three times to emphasize this point. But I want you to notice verse 17. Peter is perplexed by what the vision means. What I want us to see is that it is clear to Peter that the point is not about how the dietary laws of the Law of Moses have been erased. The vision is not about animals at all and Peter is trying to understand what this vision does mean.
As Peter is trying to understand the meaning, the servants of Cornelius come to the house where Peter is staying. The Spirit of the Lord tells Peter to go with those men without hesitation or doubt because the Lord had sent them (10:19-20). Peter asks why the men have come and they respond by explain who Cornelius. Listen to what they say about Cornelius in verse 22. He is an upright and God-fearing person who has a good reputation among the whole Jewish nation. An angel told him to get you to bring you to his house to hear a message from you. So the next day Peter and some of the other believers go to Caesarea.
The Understanding (10:24-48)
Cornelius has gathered all his relatives and close friends for the moment of Peter’s arrival. When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls at his feet. But Peter tells him to stand up because he is just a man like him. I would like to make a quick point right here. If the great apostle Peter said that no one should revere him and that he should be only be treated like another human, then no religious leader and no religious person should ever be elevated, honored, or revered as if they are someone different than any other follower of Jesus. The only person to be elevated, honored, and revered is Jesus and no one else.
Peter enters the house and he offers his first understanding of the vision he has received. In verse 28 he says that it is unlawful for a Jewish person to associate or visit a foreigner. But God has shown me that I must not call any person impure or unclean. This is why he has come without objection. But now Peter wants to know why Cornelius sent for him. So Cornelius explains the vision that he saw and how he was instructed to call for Peter. So I sent for you and we are all gathered to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord (10:33).
Notice the next understanding that Peter comes to in verses 34-35. “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” First, Peter understands that he should not think of another person as different from him. Do not call anyone impure or unclean. Second, Peter understands that God is not partial. God does not show favoritism. Anyone who fears the Lord and does what is right, no matter where they come from, is accepted by God. This leads Peter into preaching the message about Jesus. Notice his conclusion in verse 43. “All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.” All the prophets declare that anyone who believes can be forgiven from their sins.
Then the Lord confirms this understanding by sending the Spirit upon these Gentiles (10:44-46). This leads Peter to draw an important conclusion that the Gentiles should also be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (10:47-48).
The Explanation (11:1-18)
Chapter 11 is a continuation regarding this important event. In fact, it is Peter’s explanation about what happened. As chapter 11 begins we see that some of the Jewish Christians are disturbed by what Peter has done by going into the house of this Gentile and eating with them (11:1-3). So Peter explains what took place (11:4). He tells them about his vision and how the Spirit told him to go with these men back to Caesarea without hesitation. He tells them about how Cornelius had seen an angel that told him to send Peter to his house. Then when he saw the Holy Spirit fall on the Gentiles, he knew that God had given the Gentiles the same gift of salvation as the Jews (11:17). So how could he possibly stand in God’s away and commanded them to be baptized? Look at verse 18. God has granted repentance that leads to life for everyone!
There are two important messages that arise from this text. The first is the repetition found throughout the two chapters. No person should be considered different. God is not partial and does not play favorites. Repentance has been granted for everyone. Anyone who fears God in any nation is acceptable to him. Please let these words resonate deep within us. God does not look at people differently. Do we? God loves the world and accepts everyone who follows him. The message is that those who follow Jesus think differently about people. We do not evaluate people by where they are from, what they look like, or any other social, economic, or cultural distinction.
Now what sometimes happens is people will say that they have been taught to have these kinds of thoughts all their lives. I want us to see that this is what Peter is dealing with as well. Peter was taught a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. But now God tells him that he must not think of people in this way. Peter says that God showed him he should not call any person defiled or unclean. The way he thought about the Gentiles needed to change. The Spirit told him to go to Cornelius’ house without hesitation or doubt. You may have been raised to think badly or have skepticism about certain groups of people. But in Christ we are not allowed to maintain that thinking. God wants us to evaluate every person by who they are, not by what they look like, where they are from, how they were raised, or how they speak. Listen to how James tells us to proceed.
But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show prejudice, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as violators. (James 2:8–9 NET)
We need to ask ourselves if the way we are talking about a person, acting toward a person, or thinking about a person is loving that person like we would love ourselves. Do you want to be evaluated by people’s preconceived notions? Do you want to be evaluated by where you came from or what you look like? These are things that we cannot help. I have been evaluated negatively because I am from California. I am from the land of fruits and nuts and must be liberal. I have been evaluated negatively because I live in Palm Beach County. I must be rich and not need any money. This is not loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is be partial toward others. This is showing a prejudice against someone. Christians must never do this! James says we are committing sin and are violators of God’s law when we think like this!
If there is any place where there should never be any prejudice or partiality is in the body of Christ. Yet how often is that not the case. How often are such terrible discriminations and sinful thoughts maintained against one another! I am always stunned to see or hear about how there was ever allowed to be any kind of evaluation among God’s people in a local church. Salvation is for everyone and God does not show partiality. So how can we? We must overcome our culture, our upbringing, and our peers so that we always love our neighbor as ourselves. Every person is loved by God that Jesus died for and we are to show that love in what we think, say, and do.
Second, I want us to consider Cornelius’ situation for salvation. We are told that he was a devout man who feared God (10:2). He did many charitable acts and always prayed to God (10:2). God was hearing his prayers (10:4,31). We are told he is an upright and God-fearing man with a good reputation among the Jewish community (10:22). Yet he still needed to be commanded to be baptized in the name of Jesus (10:47-48). Cornelius was clearly on a spiritual journey as he was seeking the Lord. He’s doing good. He’s praying. He is living an upright life. But notice what Peter describes in Acts 11:17-18 regarding what happened. Peter says in Acts 11:15-17 that the Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household. So he asks how he could possibly hinder God. Let me ask: hinder God from doing what? What is Peter saying that he would not stand in God’s way of doing? The answer is in verse 18. He could not stand in God’s way of granting repentance that leads to life. So what did Peter command Cornelius and his house to do? He commanded them to be baptized (10:47-48).
There are two things I want us to see here. First, Cornelius was a good person but he was not saved. He had not yet been granted repentance that leads to life even though he did good acts, prayed to God, was upright, and had a good reputation. You are not saved by being a good person. You are not in right standing with God nor on the path to eternal life just by doing good things and praying. There is something more that must happen. God still needed to save Cornelius. Second, Cornelius and his household had not been granted repentance that leads to life until they were baptized. Now please listen carefully. Cornelius was clearly on a spiritual journey. He was on the path of faith. No one can negate what he was doing as he was seeking the Lord and living an upright life. But he and his house needed to take the next step by being baptized in the name of Jesus. You may be doing good for the Lord. You may be telling others about God. You may have prayed to the Lord like Cornelius and God has answered your prayers. But have you completed your journey of faith by submitting to Jesus in baptism like Cornelius and his house, like the eunuch, like the Samaritans, and like those in Judea, like we have read throughout the book of Acts? Jesus commanded his disciples:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20 ESV)
Do not come up short on your journey of faith. It is a necessary step that Jesus commanded. Be granted repentance that leads to life. Every person who fears the Lord and does what he says is acceptable to him.